a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

This was written by Sarah Barasch-Hagans, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is a rabbinic intern at T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights for The Jewish Exponent

Why did I go to Ferguson? I went as a rabbinical student, as someone raised in St. Louis and as someone in a multiracial family. But mostly I went because it seemed to be my Jewish duty not to stand by while the blood of my neighbor cried out from the pavement.
Ever since Michael Brown was shot on Aug. 9, and left in the street for four hours and 32 minutes, and ever since the police showed up in riot gear to patrol what was beginning as a peaceful memorial, I have been listening for the time to return and the way to engage. The mourning and subsequent cries for justice have been sustained in Ferguson and spread across the nation.

I have used my social media presence to highlight this story and its broader context. I have donated to local organizations, and been in touch with my rabbi, Susan Talve, who goes to the protests most nights. Many times I started to buy a plane ticket to go back, but stopped, wondering how my presence could help. When the call came from Hands Up United to join in Ferguson October’s Weekend of Resistance Oct. 10-13, the time had come.

I needed to see the situation for myself, in order to confirm my friends’ reports that the media was not telling the entire story. They were not wrong. I did not meet rioters; rather, I met protesters who were thoughtful, engaged, focused and incredibly disciplined. I heard them telling moving and heartbreaking stories and joined in their inspiring chants for justice.

Read the rest here. 

I moved. To Seattle.

Posted on: October 17, 2014

Space_Needle002That’s right, folks I moved across the country by car with my partner, all of our possessions from Brooklyn to Seattle.

We’ve been here for a little over a week and while we’ve been given suggestions of where to go to meet people, we’re a mighty team of two bravely making our way in a new city.

I only got to spend Rosh Hashanah in NYC, which was amazing. Yom Kippur was in Milwaukee, WI (there’s a story) and unfortunately I had to work during Sukkot and my favorite holiday, Simchat Torah. I’m excited and a bit anxious to be the new girl in shul again, especially in a part of the world that is not quite as brown as the East Coast.

In exciting writing news, I’ll be blogging for RitualWell soon on a variety of topics; everything from my move, navigating a new Jewish community as a Jew of Color (again) and more. Stay tuned! and Shana Tovah!


Mixed Multitudes Mix Up

Posted on: September 9, 2014

Today Tablet posted an article about Commandment Keepers/Hebrew Israelites/”Black Jews”

I read the first paragraph and was instantly upset, again, that another “mainstream, left-leaning” Jewish online journal was doing sloppy reporting.

I’ve written about why this is problematic a lot. Like a lot. Like, really a lot. And here’s the thing. I really don’t care about Hebrew Israelites or their claim to be or not be Jewish. I would, however, like to remind you that they’re not Jewish and that some Hebrew Israelites feel very strongly that white Jews are basically the devil, but that’s another post. I’d also like to remind everyone that whenever liberal, lefty Jewish publications write about white Messianic Jews they generally agree that they’re not Jewish, because they’re not. Jesus is all right by me, but belief in him (as the son of G-d) makes you not a Jew.

I’m also aware that when talking about race and Judaism some people (read most white people) get very … authoritative. They like to assume that they know who is and who is not Jewish simply based on how someone looks. (See also white guilt. Also white privilege.) It very much opens the door to the very sensitive topic of who is and who is not Jewish, which as a Black Jew who converted under Reform Rabbinical authority, I understand.  It’s a touchy topic and having one’s Jewishness questioned really effing sucks. Of course we can turn to halacha to guide us as to who is and who is not Jewish, and since halacha is law to us Jews the answer of who is and who is not Jewish is pretty clear. It’s also pretty clear how one can become Jewish if one is not a Jew. (See also conversion).

It is not my place to say who is and who is not Jewish and I don’t think that’s why the Tablet article and articles that have been published in the past about the Commandment Keepers and their off-shoot communities is bothersome. What always bothers me is the lack of distinction between who Black Jews are and are not, but mostly about how white Jews view them/Jews of Color/Multiracial Jew/me.

What I see happening, and what I’ve personally experienced is laziness on the part of white, mainstream Judaism.

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Posted on: August 4, 2014

one g-dI think of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as three rivers. If you are on either of the three, you run into some good spots and some rough currents. You sometimes float down lazily just to get to a stretch of water seemingly impossible to traverse. The three rivers run separately, of course. But, if you are brave and decide to go upstream, against the current to the source, you will find that your one river connects to two others, that the three rivers come from the same source. These three rivers, or branches of faith, aren’t so different because they all started from the same place.

This sameness is how I became interested in studying Judaism. It’s how I found myself downstream as a Jew, though I once floated down another river. It was this source, this beginning that gave me the strength and the courage to paddle upstream to find the beginning and I made the choice to become a Jew.

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Posted on: July 23, 2014

IsraelPalestine“And among the people of Moses is a community which guides by truth and by it establishes justice.”

- Qur’an 7:159

For over three weeks I’ve been sending prayers to Gaza, Israel and Palestine.


According to my  Facebook and Twitter feed (which is getting thinner and thinner the more I unfriend and unfollow) it would seem that all of the problems in the world are because of the Jews (or the Arabs) depending on which banner you’re camped under. While I’m still hanging out somewhere in the middle, I find it incredibly interesting that with the rest of the horrors happening in the world people aren’t out protesting other embassies or joining rally cries against other countries, even our own.

For instance, this weekend over 700 people were killed this weekend in Syria in what activists are calling the deadliest 48 hours to date. As Syrians fight on either side of the conflict hundreds of people are dying each day. 700 people, and it’s not even a blip … because Jews aren’t involved?

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Where is Gd? Part Two

Posted on: July 20, 2014

Make Peace, Not WarWhen I sat before my beit din, before going to the mikvah, one of the rabbis asked me if my views on Israel had changed. I told her that they had not; I still thought Israel was a horrible place, that Israelis were racist, that Jews were treating Palestinians like southern (and northern and western and eastern) whites treated blacks in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s (today). I even compared Israel to Nazi Germany. I was “educated” by western papers and news media outlets. I’d never met an Israeli or a Palestinian for that matter, but I had a lot of Muslim friends and felt a sort of allegiance to the people of Palestine.

All of these thoughts came to my head when she asked me if my views on Israel had changed and I answered her honestly, they had not. She then asked if I could learn to think more holistically about Israel, if I would do some learning on my own and then make a decision on how I felt. I told her I could, because I was still learning so much and that is what I did.

A few months later I found myself getting off of a plane in Israel. I looked around Ben Gurion airport, it looked the same as any other airport, but then I noticed a mezzuzah at the end of the corridor I was walking down, and another and another and it hit me, I was in a Jewish country. The only place in the world where I was with my chosen people, where the language was that of my people, where the customs were the customs of my people. I saw women in hijab looking for bags next to women in shietels and tichels. Men with large-brimmed hats and men wearing keffiyeh. As I gathered my things and looked for my Israeli friend who had opened her home to me, it all clicked. The need and right for Israel to exist.

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Where is Gd? Part One

Posted on: July 19, 2014

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the past few months and especially in the past few weeks.

When trying to have a baby turned into one of the hardest, most expensive, and most disappointing thing I’ve experienced with my body I asked.

When I lost my job and went on interviews with several Jewish non-profits, and interviewed with several friends and acquaintances and never got so much as an email response afterwards I asked.

When my only sibling died I asked.

I still don’t have an answer, but it felt like a long time that Gd stopped listening to me.

Some people say that when you allow yourself to truly become quiet you can hear the sound of Gd’s voice. I’ve heard that people find Gd in the faces of friends, children and family members. Some people find Gd when they’re alone, surrounded by nature. And still others find Gd after they come out on the other side of something tragic. I hoped the later would be where I found Gd, but without an answer to infertility and the knowledge that no amount of prayer will bring my sister back, I’m still struggling to figure out where Gd is and how Gd fits into my life.

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About two weeks ago I got an email from an AG-identified Lesbian from Jersey interested in conversion to Judaism. J asked a few questions, which I happily answered, but if you’re a queer person of color who converted to Judaism and have some pointers for J, please share them in the comments.

I’ve been following your blog for the last year in admiration and although late, I’d like to congratulate you on seeing your calling through to completion (or at least the conversion process through to completion as I don’t believe it ends there). Two weeks ago, I met with a Reform Rabbi discussing my interest in Judaism and last Friday I attended service for the first time. Outside of needing people of color the experience was awesome as they were very friendly and inviting. However is it strange that I left the service still wanting…now what am I wanting that’s still unclear. It would have been nice to see people wearing Kippot and Tallitot; it came across like a Catholic Mass. By no means should this be perceived as judgement as this was my first experience and I really didn’t know what to expect. Is it typical to only have Friday service and no Shabbat service on Saturday? I am not sure if they have morning and evening services during the week. I’ve been leaning towards attending a Conservative Synagogue however my concern is that being a black, aggressive lesbian could be an issue. You’ve mentioned in recent blogs that you’ve switched to a Conservative Synagogue. Can you speak on your experience? Do you attend Saturday services and weekday prayers? Do you wear a Kippah, Tallit or Tefillin? Do other woman wear them? How was the environment? Last, do you still feel as drawn to Judaism post-conversion or has the struggle changed things?

Thanks for reading and your thoughts,

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A Woman of Valor Who Can Find?

Posted on: June 1, 2014

Julie Geller’s version of Eishet Chayil is still my absolute favorite version of this ancient song traditionally sung by a husband (and sometimes children) to his wife to honor her role in the house. Because it comes from Torah verses, to say that it’s a bit archaic is putting it lightly. And while I absolutely love Julie’s version I really can’t imagine Mirs singing this to me and if I sang it to her, I think she might throw up her hands and run away from Jewish practice for good. (If you remember, my fiancee loves being a Jew, she just doesn’t need to do Jewish … until children, that was our agreement.) If Eishet Chayil makes it way to our big, gay, black &  Jewish Shabbat table it will be sung as a family and Julie’s version will be what we sing.

But babies are still painfully far away and for now the only Woman of Valor-ness happening in my life is this amazing project by a woman called Gracey Levine  from Portland who reached out to me. I get a lot of requests from people who read the blog and sadly, I can’t respond or help out with them all because of time commitments or people’s fascination with conversion as the only path towards multiracial, multi-ethnic Jewish experiences. So when Gracey simply asked to interview me for a project she’s doing portraying the lives of Jewish women of today I said yes and that I would help spread the word.

Gracey isn’t interested in exploiting Jewish women of Color, she’s not out there to ask us “how” we’re Jewish, she took a look at her project and realized that if she was going to portray Jewish women of today, that she would be remiss to not include Jewish women of Color.

Take a look at her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where you can find her planned travel itinerary. If she’s in a city near you, reach out to her and tell her I sent you.

Shavua Tov!


“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that, I try to make sure my experiences are positive.” — Maya Angelou

My first experience of Maya Angelou, who died this week at the age of 86, happened in high school. We weren’t required to read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” in a literature class and my all-girl’s private Catholic school definitely didn’t have a Black History course. No, the first time I heard Maya Angelou’s words was out of the mouth of young black women about my age performing “Phenomenal Woman” at an event for the black social organization I was a member of, Jack and Jill. I’d definitely heard poems read and recited aloud, but this was the first time I felt the words of a poet come to life. We were in our teens, so the material was a bit mature, but the fact that the artist put her own spin on Ms. Angelou’s timeless words of black female empowerment and an awareness and pride of the female body left an impression on me.

As I watched quotes and memories of Ms. Angelou pepper my Facebook feed yesterday, it became clear that her words — honest, poignant and clearly evocative of her own experience — are also universal and have touched many generations of men and women from a variety of races, religions and cultural backgrounds. Born as Marguerite Johnson in April 1928, Maya Angelou is best known for her works of literature and her activism, though she was also a Tony-nominated actress, dancer and performer as well as a professor of American History at Wake Forest University.

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/199167/maya-angelou-my-sister-and-me/?#ixzz33CTVaK3I

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